By Dr. Richard L. Cravatts
Lest there be any confusion about the actual sentiments of the Palestinians’ “moderate” leadership, President Mahmoud Abbas’s comments at memorial service on the fourth anniversary of Yasser Arafat’s death this month provide ample evidence that the central ideology of Palestinianism was, and still is, based on a cult-like obsession with death and martyrdom, and continuously striving for the murder of Jews and the destruction of Israel.
Using the Ramallah event to reaffirm a commitment to “follow Yasser Arafat’s path until a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital is established,” Abbas went on to heap heroic praise upon two additional iconic mass murderers who, like Arafat, had become respected martyrs in the struggle for Palestinian self-determination by defining their political lives by the body count of Israeli civilians whose murders they helped effect.
“The path of the shahids,” or martyrs, Abbas solemnly announced, “Arafat, George Habash, and Sheikh Ahmed Yassin — is the path that we cherish; it is aimed at upholding the Palestinians’ nationalist and sovereign resolutions.”
Cherishing that path is clearly not what President George Bush had in mind when he established the Road Map, through which relations with Israel would be normalized and the Palestinians would receive their long-awaited state. The “path of the shahids” that Abbas sanctified with his tributes completely skirts any notion of a cessation of violence, and calls for the destruction and elimination of Israel. In fact, in recognizing the accomplishments of the murderous duo of Yassin and Habash, Abbas is clearly giving a nod to the political tactics not of his moderate Fatah party, but to those of his rivals in Hamas — of which Yassin, interestingly enough, was the co-founder.
Despite the fact that he founded a terrorist organization that was directly responsible, since 2000 alone, for the death of 337 and the injury of 2,000 Israelis — mostly civilians — the world press regularly and carelessly described Yassin, killed in a 2004 Israeli tactical assault, as the “spiritual leader” of the Hamas movement. Wrapping oneself in the insulating shield of one’s faith while at the same time committing acts of decidedly un-spiritual acts, of course, is a technique not unique to Yassin and his apologists, but the widespread acceptance and use of this mantle of theological respectability changes neither the actuality nor gravity of the man’s primary deeds and articulated purpose — namely, the killing and annihilation of Jews in Israel. Despite the fact that he was promiscuously referred to as a “spiritual leader,” he was clearly, to paraphrase and contort Lloyd Bentsen’s famous quip to Dan Quayle, no Mahatma Gandhi.
Similarly, George Habash, Abbas’s other hero of Palestinian nationalism, sometimes referred to as the “Christian godfather of terrorism,” was the founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a rival to Arafat, and someone who did not even pretend to desire any type of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. His diplomatic technique was more simple and direct: airline hijacking, hostage taking (with a preference for Jews), barbaric mass murders, drive-by shootings, and suicide bombings. When he was not busy arranging for the murder of civilians around the globe and vaporizing aircraft, Habash used his curious blend of Marxism and nihilistic politics to concoct a hard-line strategy for realizing an autonomous Palestinian state.
“We call all the Palestinian forces,” he said, “to freeze out security cooperation with the Zionist enemy and boost armed and popular struggle against the army of occupation.”
There is hardly a hidden agenda here, and neither Yassin nor Habash limited their incendiary rhetoric and deeds to the “Arab street,” like Arafat did and Abbas now does, while speaking to the West and rest of the world with a message of moderation and restraint. So it is very telling when Abbas uses Arafat’s memorial service to comment that the barbarity of two other murderers is central to the effort “to follow Yasser Arafat’s path.” What does that mean for the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations? Sadly, that it is likely that others will follow the model of this trio of shahids and become martyrs themselves to the Palestinian struggle — what they perceive to be a divinely inspired cause.
Hamas, of course, went one step farther than pointing to its so-called ‘holy book’ for its spiritual inspiration: it wrote in its own 1988 charter that Israel “will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” Thus, Hamas’ original and remaining primary intent is the creation, through religiously sanctioned violence, of an Islamic state in all of Palestine.
Yassin himself had reiterated this general approach to Israel, indicating quite clearly that if there is any “road map” for peace, Hamas is clearly not taking that journey; that this is not a struggle against oppression or for territorial rights. It is a campaign to expel Jews, by whatever means necessary, from Israel itself.
This is a particularly thorny issue for Israel which, in having to combat an enemy who is not only willing but eager to die as a martyr for his cause, finds itself unable to protect itself without bringing some of the world’s condemnation and disapproval on its political head. Martin Kramer observed that Israel’s military responses—even preemptive ones—become necessary and unavoidable, that “the goals of terrorists are such that there is no reasonable political response. This is particularly true when one confronts terrorists whose motivation is religious, [since] religious movements that develop terrorist appendages often have goals that are civilizational, and that envision an Armegeddon-like catharsis.”
Yassin, Habash and Arafat may well be inspirations to Abbas and to Palestinians, but there is clearly a moral disconnect that enables someone to characterize a person as a spiritual leader when he lived his life with the primary role of a fanatical, murder-inciting terrorist. Only in the Orwellian universe of contemporary diplomacy can someone be considered a political moderate when he embraces and glorifies the legacy of terrorists and simultaneously sits down at negotiating tables with Israeli leaders. The fact that the current Palestinian leadership admits publicly that violence is an acceptable and admirable component of a political strategy is troubling as well.
“Palestinian terrorism is not a plea to Israel to relieve material needs,” suggested Louis Rene Beres, sadly, “but rather a demand to die so that Arabs can realize their spiritual wants.”
Given the deadly cost of that theology to Jews, the spiritual leadership spawned by such an ideology can never be accepted as part of a road map to any lasting peace.